Gleneagles Townhouse, Edinburgh Hotel Review: ‘Atmosphere is corseted and unpretentious’ | Travel

Sharan Pasricha, co-chief executive of the Ennismore Hotel Group, has already shown commendable bravery as a hotelier. In 2016, he unveiled a much-needed makeover of Gleneagles, the UK’s best-known country estate estate, introducing the leading lady to a world beyond the disasters of golf fashion and post-tea – noon with grandma. It was an instant hit.

It turns out that Pasricha also has a sense of humor — one loaded with Ricky Gervais’ levels of risk-taking. So, as the spinster heads towards its 100th birthday (June 7, 2024), it’s celebrating by launching a sister property. The natural extension of the brand would surely be a respectable golf resort in Florida. Instead, he opted to open an ultra-trendy urban outpost in Edinburgh and gave the new location a wellness center to concentrate.

No need for stunt doubles to make me smile when I arrive at Gleneagles Townhouse. It overlooks the sunny gardens of St Andrew Square, a short walk from the main sights, and its elaborate facade is impressively topped by six neoclassical statues. It was built in 1781 by George Ramsay, 8th Earl of Dalhousie, whose son sold the mansion to the Bank of Scotland. It remained a branch for over 200 years. Five years ago, Pasricha took it over to reinvent it into a chic hotel and private club.

Light floods through triple-height arched windows

Public spaces are prepared for influencers. The lobby has a golden staircase so fabulous that, male or female, it will bring out your finest Scarlett O’Hara steering wheel. It leads to The Spence, the old banking hall that is now a huge, glorious playground all day (and often much of the night). Rose-tinted granite columns rise to a ceiling where cameos from 12 famous Scots, including economist Adam Smith and author Walter Scott, watch from a ledge that’s a riot of swirls of peach and d gold as fluid and rhythmic as the ribbons of a gymnast. Light floods through its vast engraved dome and its semi-circular arched windows.

Ennismore’s designers have cleverly wrestled with all that towering grandeur and transformed it into inviting comfort by installing a glamorous square-shaped art deco bar center stage. In one fell swoop, this divides a cavernous ground floor into intimate zones without compromising those graceful dimensions. The staff, dressed in uniforms inspired by bank employees, do their best to keep the atmosphere humming. Bartenders are constantly polishing wine glasses, shaking shakers, preparing cappuccinos; servers are constantly moving between clients; the bar and open kitchen, where chefs slice and dice under a covered space once occupied by ticket booths, is buzzing.

The vibe is casual and unassuming, with a fun color palette of peachy pinks, peppermint, plums, and peacock blue. There are no straight dining chairs sitting here; instead, you’ll sink into scalloped armchairs in velvet and damask. If you’re partying, book a curved banquette and make a statement by ordering Argyle rock oysters followed by a sharing platter of roasted whole turbot. Low-key lunches can swivel on a bar stool and down beer and burgers (aged beef and bone marrow, or plant-based). In the meantime, slip behind Corinthian columns to sip espresso and people watch. A piano player adds extra cheery hormones to weekend brunches, and two working marble fireplaces should entice winter diners to linger.

All 33 rooms have a fun color palette

All 33 rooms have a fun color palette

I love the buttery smoothness of my heavenly comfort food West Coast Crab Crumpet, and I always dream of my amazingly creamy native lobster penne. Unfortunately, the combo means that when the custom-made hazel candy cart thrills me, I can only handle a petit four, delicious Scottish macaron made with mashed potatoes (yep) and chocolate. My server’s name is Sunny, which pretty much sums up the attitude of the young team led by dapper Dutchman Willem van Emden (previously at Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire). I end my evening at Lamplighters, the romantic rooftop terrace bar, where I admire the view of the Firth of Forth, the hills of Fife and the spiers and domes of the city.

The Spence is open to all, but Lamplighters is exclusively for hotel guests and members, as is The Strong Rooms, the excellent health club housed in the ancient vaults. Pasricha originally planned a Japanese restaurant for this space but the pandemic persuaded him to focus on health instead. It features trendy cryotherapy, infrared saunas, physiotherapy and nutrition experts, plus another increasingly important feature for travelers: easy connection to the neighborhood.

Edinburgh seen from Calton Hill, just a five-minute walk from the hotel

Edinburgh seen from Calton Hill, just a five-minute walk from the hotel

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A friendly fitness classmate recommends that I see newly installed Tracey Emin at the Jupiter Artland sculpture park, a 40-minute drive from town (I do, and find the whole complex memorably enchanting); another suggests modern Chinese cuisine at the nearby Tattu restaurant (unfortunately, no time). I get a beast from Marcus during the functional move and a pain core from Barre Sculpt with Kat. At Yin Yoga with Tessa, I avoid the lithe ladies in Lycra and sit next to a bulky guy who I imagine last touched his toes as a toddler. But – don’t you hate when a cunning plan unravels? – he turns out to be John Barclay, the former Scottish rugby captain (and Time columnist), and annoyingly flexible. My inquiries as to whether local personalities such as JK Rowling and Ian Rankin are members receive polite ‘no comment’ replies but Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the little donkey, what are the odds they are not on the ticket hottest in town?

Of course, Jo and Ian probably don’t need to stay, which is a shame as the 33 rooms are a pleasant fusion of Georgian and mid-century style, some with original features. Numbers 22 and 23 are the choice for entry-level attic rooms. If you’re a light sleeper, you’ll have to sacrifice the views for siestas, as those overlooking St Andrew’s Square are also directly above a tram line. Its bell reminds me of the disturbing opening note of the Peaky Blinders theme melody. Fortunately, even the image of Tommy and Arthur Shelby does not prevent me from falling asleep. To help those who can’t, the hotel produces custom earplugs and eye masks.

A marble sink with mirror and art deco lighting

A marble sink with mirror and art deco lighting

GLENEAGLES TOWNHOUSE

The Shelbys might just say you can still sleep when you’re dead and, the truth is, this place is designed more for socializing than sleeping. It certainly woke up the city’s rather predictable hotel scene. And while that may not earn Pasricha the coveted Edinburgh Fringe Best Newcomer Comedy award, his sense of humor looks poised to pay off.

Susan d’Arcy was a guest at Gleneagles Townhouse, which has doubles only from £375, main courses from £16 (gleneagles.com)

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